Eighty-two year-old Cecil Vise has spent most of his life riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles. But the bike excursion he recently took as a hospice patient at the Village of Jackson Creek Memory Care was the ride of a lifetime – and his last ever.
Cecil’s exhilarating jaunt was a special gift from Crossroads Hospice and its “Gift of a Day” program that creates special moments for seriously ill patients to bring about a perfect day.
“The gifts have brought smiles, tears, laughter and joy to countless terminally ill patients and their families,” Janet Hessenflow says in a news release. Janet is executive director of Crossroads Hospice’s Kansas City office.
For Cecil, the trek on a Honda Gold Wing through Eastern Jackson County and western Lafayette County has changed Cecil from “a man of few words” to a man who wants to share his gift with everyone he meets.
“The ride just changed his countenance,” says the Rev. Nancy Layne in an interview at the Independence facility off Jackson Drive. “We have the image of (elderly) people who live in facilities and are approaching the end of their natural life (as debilitated) and colorless and sad. Many people would not have considered Cecil to be different,” she continues, noting he was flush, rosy-looking and his eyes were sparkling on this special day. “I mean, there was a change.”
Nancy is one of 15 chaplains for Crossroads Hospice and member of a multidisciplinary team that assists patients in its care.
“We are like an extra set of eyes and ears that come in and kinda help out the patient,” says social worker Mike Shalinsky, a member of the multidisciplinary team who sat in on the interview, along with Debbie Dresh, a Registered Nurse.
Encouraging every patient to have a “Gift of the Day” is a never-ending task for the team.
“That’s our goal,” Mike says. “We want all of our patients who are able to have one. But unfortunately, not all patients can participate in the program because of their diagnosis.”
As a social worker, Mike continually talks to hospice patients about what they enjoy doing and what a special day might resemble.
For Cecil’s special day – Saturday, Aug. 3 – one couldn’t have asked for a more pleasant day.
“It was August and that time of the year when you would expect it to be blistering hot and uncomfortable dressed in motorcycle clothes and a helmet,” says the chaplain, noting “it turned out to be the perfect day.” The temperature was in the low 80s and the sun wasn’t bright because of the high cloud cover.
Making the “Gift of the Day” possible was fellow bike enthusiast Bill Babcock, whose sister, Terry Robertson, a nurse with Crossroad Hospice, told him about Cecil’s wish. Desiring to be part of Cecil’s special day, Bill drove his Honda more than 40 miles from his home to take Cecil for a ride.
Because of safety restrictions, not any ole bike would do. The cycle carrying Cecil had to be big and solid and have a passenger chair with arms on both sides. And Bill’s Honda fit the bill to a tee.
Around 11 o’clock – following a photo session – Bill cranked up his bike and followed the chaplain’s car as it headed north on Jackson Drive, then east on U.S. 24 to Lexington, Mo. Trailing the lead car was the motorcycle. Behind it was Toi Hunt, the “Gift of the Day” coordinator and the photographer capturing memories of this unique outing.
Wanting him to feel the sensation of speed, Nancy Layne selected U.S. 24 so Cecil could relive his days on the open road. Why U.S. 24?
“Because it’s highway speed and there’s not a lot of traffic,” she said.
With no communication between the cars and the speeding motorcycle, the caravan stopped twice en route to Lexington to make sure Cecil was secure and having a good time. All was fine. On the return trip, the caravan went north on Missouri 7 to Blue Hills so Cecil could see the beauty along the rural road.
As for the trip itself, “There was absolutely no hitch at all,” Nancy recalls, noting it took about an hour to make the round-trip, which she believes was “a good 50 miles or more.”
And what about Cecil?
“I though his legs would be shaking and he would be a little exhausted or something, Nancy says. “But he was a new man. He was fabulous. He got off (the cycle) and got back into his wheelchair. ... He was just smiling.”
Known for being “pretty quiet” and “not terribly talkative,” Cecil was anything but that when I spoke to him during my visit to Memory Care.
With a broad smile on his face, Cecil told me from his bed that riding on a motorcycle again was exciting, that the day was a major day in his life and that he was thinking about his freedom during the non-tiresome trip . As for another bike ride, he grins, saying, “I would love it.”
Cecil also reveals he was an avid biker, a motorcycle club member who raced all the time and recipient of many trophies. He also served in the Army two years (1955-57) during the Cold War in Germany.
Noting many of the hospice patients have lost their independence, nurse Debbie Dresh believes the goal of the “Gift of a Day” program is to allow a person to have a little (bit) of independence.
“Cecil couldn’t get on his motorcycle anymore and go for a ride. But someone was there to give him that opportunity, and that made such a huge difference to him,” she says, recalling that “when you talk (to him) about the pictures (of his ride), you can see it in his eye – his demeanor. It brought back that life to him. It’s amazing, and I don’t think he’ll ever forget that.”
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.